The Badass Barista Throwdown Practices Zero-Waste While Raising Money for Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp

Seattle coffee groups come together to organize an LGBTQ+/POC latte art throwdown to fundraise for Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp.


Feature photo courtesy of Marissa Sohn

El Diablo Coffee Co. was packed for the Badass Barista Zero-Waste Throwdown. The latte art competition took place in the Seattle area September 26 exclusively for the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color, with an additional emphasis on low milk waste.

The event felt like a big house party in El Diablo’s huge two-story digs. The space, formerly a Mexican kitchen and cantina in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, boasted a spacious main floor, bar, outdoor patio seating, and a second floor with couches and tables. The upstairs felt like a viewing party, as the throwdown happening downstairs was projected live on a screen. Participants and onlookers crowded together in the hall space facing the bar, while 32 contestants went head-to-head. In the end, Elisabeth Johnson of Venture Coffee Company won first place and a $1,000 prize.

El Diablo Coffee Co. offered outdoor patio seating, along with food and drinks at the event. Photo by Marissa Sohn.

El Diablo, the Joe Coffee app, #coffeetoo, and Coffee at Large organized the event, while Synesso, Oatly, and Barista Magazine sponsored.

“The owner of El Diablo, Jill Killen, wanted to have a fundraiser to benefit Glitter Cat,” says El Diablo store manager Crystina McKenna. “The folks from Joe Coffee reached out to us in August wanting to sponsor a throwdown because they thought the new location we’re in would be perfect for the event! I met with Gia (Laynes) from Joe Coffee, and we planned everything, with a lot of coordinating help from Molly (Flynn) from Broadcast. We combined the ideas of fundraising for Glitter Cat while supporting the communities they uplift. Coffee at Large had just formed, so we really wanted to celebrate the barista community here in Seattle, and have a safe space for folks to come have fun and feel comfortable.”

Judges Felix Tran, Umeko Motoyoshi, and Crystina McKenna choose the winning latte. Photo by Mark Van Streefkerk.

Though anyone could attend, the competition was exclusive to people of color and LGBTQIA+-identified folks, with the $5 buy-in going directly to Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp, the coffee competition training program for marginalized members of the community.

The venue filled up fast. Introductions were made, and Felix Tran of Coffee at Large went over the event’s code of conduct. Umeko Motoyoshi spoke next, emphasizing that the throwdown was a zero-waste competition, meaning all of the lattes made would be carefully stored in a Cambro, chilled, and donated to the Queen Anne Food Bank. Food was provided by Pagliacci Pizza, and in mindfulness of the event’s carbon footprint, most were vegan with some vegetarian pizzas.

Supporters gather in the hall facing the bar to cheer on the action. Photo by Mark Van Streefkerk.

Music pumped over the sound system, and El Diablo’s Dey’Veon Carter played emcee for the night as the competition got underway. Competitors steamed milk at opposite ends of the same bar, while Gia Laynes of Joe Coffee pulled the shots. Each pour was freestyle in a 12-ounce mug, and judges Felix, Umeko, and Crystina determined the winning pours based on contrast, technique, difficulty, and completion. 

At the end of the night, Elisabeth Johnson came through for the win. Elisabeth has competed in latte art competitions since 2012, back when she “poured a completely brown cup” in her first competition. “This throwdown felt completely different,” Elisabeth said. “The overall camaraderie was palpable. It was such a wonderfully safe and diverse space, and one of the most enjoyable and well-attended throwdowns I have been to! It was such a good feeling to be a part of this event. The support for Glitter Cat with Coffee at Large and Coffee Too was such a good combination of efforts. I’m so happy that everyone came together to highlight these amazing groups that I’m proud to support.”

Elisabeth Johnson pouring the winning latte. Photo by Mark Van Streefkerk.

Coming in second and third place were Logan Maltese of Victrola Coffee Roasters and Kyle Dols of Mavam Espresso Machines, respectively. The second-place winner earned a $500 prize, and the top three winners all got swag bags with merch from Oatly, Synesso, and Umeko’s The @wastingcoffee Guide To Not Wasting Coffee.

Many thanks to Felix Tran, Molly Flynn, and Gia Laynes for their contributions to this article.

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.